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|Regimento do Comandos|
|Active||1962-1994; 2002 - Present day|
|Role||Direct action, unconventional warfare, hostage rescue, special operations|
|Part of||Rapid Reaction Brigade|
|Nickname(s)||Red Berets (Boinas Vermelhas)|
|Motto(s)||Audaces Fortuna Juvat (Fortune Favors The Bold)|
|Engagements||Portuguese Colonial War|
Coup of 25 November 1975
War in Afghanistan (2001-present)
Central African Republic Civil War (2012-present) (part of MINUSCA)
|Decorations||Most decorated troop in the Portuguese Armed Forces|
The Commandos (Portuguese: Comandos) are a special forces unit in the Portuguese Army. Presently, they constitute the Commando Regiment (Regimento de Comandos). Their motto is Audaces Fortuna Juvat (Latin for "Luck Protects the Bold") and their war cry is Mama Sumae (it can be translated as "here we are, ready for the sacrifice" - taken from a Bantu tribe of southern Angola). They were created as counter-guerrilla special forces, thus responding to the need of the Army to have units specially adapted to the type of war that, in 1961, started in Portuguese Angola and later in Portuguese Guinea (current Guinea-Bissau) and Portuguese Mozambique - the Portuguese Colonial War.
The Portuguese Army Commando troops constitute the Commando Regiment (RCmds), a base unit that is under the direct dependency of the Headquarters of the Portuguese Rapid Reaction Brigade. Until July 2015, this unit was designated "Commando Troops Center".
The operational component of the Commando Regiment is the Commando Battalion (BCmds), which by itself includes three maneuver companies and a headquarters and support company. Together with Paratrooper and Special Operations units, the Commando Battalion is one of the operational units of the Rapid Reaction Brigade.
Besides its operational battalion, the Commando Regiment also includes a regimental headquarters and staff, a headquarters and services support company and a training company.
In 1962, the Portuguese army needed units with the ability to:
The first objective that the army set out to achieve was that of building a force specially prepared for counter-guerrilla operations, but the Portuguese commandos also participated in irregular operations, with units specially organised for each operation, and in assault operations, with conventional warfare characteristics, especially in the last years of the war, when they operated in battalion strength, backed up by artillery and the Air Force.
The history of the Portuguese commandos began on 25 June, 1962, when, in Zemba (Northern Angola), the first six groups of those that would be the predecessors of the commandos, were formed. For the preparation of these groups, the CI 21 - Centro de Instrução de Contraguerrilha (Counter-Guerrilla Instruction Centre) was created, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Nave, and had as instructor, the photographer and former French Foreign Legion Sergeant, the Italian Dante Vachi, with experience in the Indochina and Algerian wars.
The six groups prepared in this center achieved excellent operational results. Nonetheless, the military command in Angola decided to re-evaluate the instruction and integration of these units into the army and, in 1963 and 64, the 16 and 25 Instruction Centres (CI 16 and CI 25) were created, in Quibala, Angola. For the first time, the term "Comandos" (Commandos) was applied to the troops instructed there.
On 13 February, 1964, the first Mozambique Commandos Course was initiated in Namaacha (Lourenço Marques, now Maputo) and on 23 July of the same year, in Bra (Portuguese Guinea), the first Guinea Commandos Course.
Portuguese commando soldiers that participated in active operations: more than 9000 men (510 officers, 1587 NCOs and 6977 soldiers) served in 67 commando companies.
The commandos constituted about 1% of all the forces present in the Colonial War, but the number of their deaths is about 10% of the total of the casualties; a percentage ten times more than that of regular forces, which happens because they were the most employed troops. It's also generally known that the commandos eliminated more guerrilla fighters and captured more weaponry than the other forces. These characteristics made them the only ones to get a mystical aura that remained after the war.
After the war, the commandos continued to develop their skills until 1993 when they were disbanded. This decision was influenced by a number of deaths during instruction. The commando soldiers were merged with the Paratroopers and these were transferred from the Air Force to the Army. But in 2002, the commandos were reactivated as an independent unit and the Batalhão de Comandos (Commando Battalion) was created, with two Operational Companies and an Instruction Company. They are now based in the Centro de Tropas Comandos (Commando Troops Centre) in Mafra. They were deployed to Afghanistan in 2005, where a sergeant was killed by a roadside bomb; the first commando KIA since the end of the Portuguese Colonial War. In 2006, Army Chief of Staff General "Comando" Pinto Ramalho, informed that the Army was developing studies in order to raise a third Operational Company, with a size force increase; the Centro de Tropas Comando are actually a garrison in Carregueira.
The commando training course had the objective of preparing for combat and had two characteristics - the practice and realism - based on two aspects: the combat technique and the psychological preparation. All this having as foundation the physical and psychic selection with high standards, although these decreased as the war dragged on.
The psychological preparation to war was perhaps the aspect that most distinguished the commandos. Its objective was to transform the man into a self-disciplined soldier, competent and effective in combat, able to fight in any situations and conditions. The psychological component was, probably, the most striking component of the instruction, assuming that its main weapon was one's will.
To perfect the will's domain over all other instincts, the commando's physical instruction aims to reach the limits of the recruit's resistance, aspiring to make each one the master of his own will.
Example of Training exercise: "They would always (for 3 or 4 times) make the same mountain run and about the same duration, so that you would start to expect what was coming and gain confidence, but at the 4th or 5th time, all changed and you were in total conflict about what was happening, putting questions in your mind like "What is going on here, we were supposed to have finished already", then one thinks "Ok, I can do one more run, no problem"...but, when you were sure that this was it or this was just another game from the instructors to put you down for one more run, then... when you least expected, you don´t do one... but... two or three more runs. Now this is called psychological training and at the same time physical training and that is why we are so strong, we always expect the unexpected and even that just gives us more resolve."
In its first phase, the commandos organised into independent groups composed of volunteers from infantry battalions, forming their intervention units. The success of these groups meant that they rapidly started to be used under the commander-in-chief's and military commanders' orders, to conduct special operations. The groups' organisation (example):
depending on the mission will have two of the following teams:
This organisation of a group with six teams and each team with five men suffered adaptations, but the base-cell, the five-men team, remained throughout the war.
The war's evolution revealed the necessity of more commando soldiers and independent units, capable of operating during longer periods and being self-sustained: reasons that led to the creation of commando companies. The first company was formed in Portuguese Angola and its instruction started in September 1964. Its commander, Captain Albuquerque Gonçalves, received the unit's banner on February 5, 1965. The second company had as its destination Mozambique, commanded by Captain Jaime Neves.
The organisation and organisational principles of the Portuguese commandos, are established in great mobility and creativity and in counter-guerrilla combat techniques, very well defined and able to support permanent innovation.
The composition and organisation of the commando companies were always adapted to the circumstances and situations, although throughout the war it was possible to verify two main models, that originated what we can call light companies and heavy companies. The former were composed of four commando groups, each one with four sub-groups, constituting 80 men and with few back-up components. These companies had little capability to maintain themselves, independently, during long periods of time, because they were meant as temporary reinforcements to units in quadrillage, like intervention forces, and received from those units the necessary support. In these companies, the mobility and flexibility were privileged, and were initially used in Guinea and Mozambique. The heavy companies had five, five-team commando groups, in a total of 125 men, together with a formation of service personnel, of about 80 men, with medics, signallers, transport soldiers and cooks. Another type of organisation was adapted to the companies of African commandos, formed in Guinea and composed of metropolitan soldiers when needed, a bit like the American special forces did in Vietnam with the "advisers".
The war's evolution, the necessity that started to exist of fighting in large units in Guinea and Mozambique and to, sometimes simultaneously, conduct special and irregular actions, led to the creation of commando battalions in those two theatres. This function of mother-unit was, in Angola and since its foundation, performed by the Centro de Instrução de Comandos (Commando Instruction Centre), that also needed to adapt, separating the instruction activity and gathering the operational units in a base in Campo Militar de Grafanil (Grafanil Military Camp), near Luanda, although it was never completely independent of the operational use under a specific command. As larger commando units the Centro de Instrução de Comandos (Commando Instruction Center), in Angola, the Batalhão de Comandos da Guiné (Guinea Commando Battalion) and the Batalhão de Comandos de Moçambique (Mozambique Commando Battalion) were formed.
Although Angola's Commando Instruction Centre was the home and it was in that centre that the main core of doctrine of use and mystique of the commandos were formed, all battalions gave instruction to their staff and formed units to intervene in the operations theatre. Beyond this centre, that prepared units meant for Angola and Mozambique and the first commandos of Guinea, in Portugal a commando centre was also created in CIOE - Centro de Instrução de Operações Especiais (Special Operations Instruction Centre), in Lamego, that instructed units mobilised to Guinea and Mozambique.
In its history, the commandos were formed in Zemba, Angola, after June 25, 1962, in Quibala, Angola, since June 30, 1963, in Namaacha, Mozambique, since 13 February, 1964, in Bra, Guinea, since July 23, 1964, in Luanda, Angola, after 29 June, 1965, in Lamego, Portugal, since 12 April, 1966 and in Montepuez, Mozambique, after 1 October, 1969. After the Colonial War, Portugal gave independence to all of its colonies and all the commandos started to be instructed in Amadora, Portugal, since 1 July, 1974.
Served in Angola (1963-1975)
Served in Portuguese Guinea (1964-1974)
Served in Mozambique (1964-1975)
Served in Portugal (1974-1993):
Serving currently in Portugal (since 2006)
The physical tests are easy to complete, which allows the commandos to have large numbers of recruits; useful because there will be a lot of drop-outs during the instruction. It has been confirmed that due to the severity of the training, there is only a 20% completion rate. After passing all the tests, the recruits will start the instruction.
Most of the instruction schedule or nature is unknown to the recruits. That means that they must be constantly ready and, to the smallest indication, present themselves on the parade ground or where they are ordered to, and follow whatever the instructors say. It might happen that they stay uninterrupted in instruction for more than a day, or that they have to conduct their daily lives during the night. The unforeseen and surprise are fundamental characteristics of the instruction. Each recruit must also be self-controlled: they have to control reactions that, otherwise, might be normal if they were not future Commandos. All the demands made in the instruction are not obligations: each recruit has the right to refuse to do whatever he is ordered to. Obviously, doing this means that he is off the course.
When a recruit successfully completes the instruction he is badged as a commando and receives the famous red beret. The badging ceremony (like other traditions of the Commandos) is inspired by old Portuguese military orders (these were forces that, in medieval Portugal, were tasked with surveillance and intelligence in peacetime; first resistance in the defensive and first attack in the offensive; they were also the strongest forces during wartime).